This is a short story that introduced Nathan Scott as a new character to the series. As Nathan Scott has a huge roll in Gathered Magic and not everyone would have had the opportunity to read his short story in the Glimpses anthology, I thought I would share it with you now.
*This is a stand alone story and you do not need to have read any of the other books in the series to enjoy it.
I’m a city guy, born and raised, but I’d seen more than my fair share of the world. My home was in the heart of Camden, a stone’s throw from the Regent’s Canal, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of London life. If my roots lay anywhere, it was there. Where the streets are lined with urban street art, and a punk mentality permeates the air, along with the appetising smells and constant cawing of traders in Camden market. A far cry from my current surroundings.
The wind screamed as a sand storm shrouded the sky and turned day into night. The once calm waters of the Nile rose in towering crests. Sand, wind, and an icy spray battered my fishing boat and tossed it around like flotsam.
My heart pounded and my skin felt stripped raw. I checked my bearings and steered the boat starboard. I had to be close, but the forbidding storm had consumed sky, land, and water with a sandy blizzard. The boat juddered to a halt and sent me tumbling to the deck. At last, I’d run aground.
A sensible man would have hunkered down, ridden out the storm, but no-one had ever called me sensible, and besides, I was one of the Magicai. Whether reckless behaviour came with magical powers, or it was just part of my innate nature, who was to say, but one thing was for sure, I had an advantage over most men in this cruel environment. Ordinaries, we called them, people with no magical power. Most of whom lived their lives unaware of the magic around them.
I clutched at the rune stone on a leather cord at my neck. It thrummed, acting like a conduit and drawing on the energy of the ley lines to infuse me with magic. The Eye of Horus, etched in the stone, flashed as I called upon its power to shield me from the worst of the elements and guide me through the storm.
I spat out the sand lodged in my mouth and launched myself into the onslaught. Protected by a magical shield, the sand no longer flayed my skin, and the incessant roar of wind was a murmur.
I trudged over the inhospitable terrain, following the pull of my rune stone. The power calling me intensified as I neared the convergence of ley lines: a potent beacon of energy in the distance. After a while, the sand blew away, the winds abated, and the storm cleared. I dropped my shield as the remains of an ancient city rose before me. The Nubian Pyramids of Meroë.
My path wound between the dunes and through the crypt-quiet city. Neither man nor beast moved around me, not even a scorpion scuttled along the sand. The only sign of the once raging storm was a deathly stillness to the air.
My throat was as dry as the desert. The sun beat down from a clear sky, stabbing me with spears of heat and covering the landscape in a haze that blurred my vision. I pulled a canteen from my backpack and savoured the water as it moistened my mouth and slid down my throat.
With my senses on high alert, I approached the final structure and stood in the doorway of the weather-worn pyramid. Something moved inside. A glimmer of light burned like liquid fire. I took a deep breath, ducked beneath an overhanging beam, and entered.
The heat followed me inside, where stale air clogged my lungs and hieroglyphics lined the walls. I wiped the sweat from my brow and slid between a narrow opening. A dark figure moved in front of me, silhouetted like a shadow in the gloom. It reached towards me, its hand outstretched, beckoning me forward.
I entered the chamber and a tall man with green eyes and a turban covering his head towered over me. “It is good to see you, Nathan,” Skylar said. “Although I must say, you took your time.”
“Give me a break.” I sat on a rock and took another swig from my canteen. “It’s not easy to travel over five thousand miles. Not to mention, having to navigate through a deadly sandstorm.”
In ancient times, the Egyptians believed the Nile was a supernatural source, a place from the netherworld that crossed the boundaries between worlds. In many ways they were right. Hidden at the points where ley lines converged, doorways to alternate realities existed. The Pyramids of Meroë, like many ancient landmarks, were built on such a convergence.
Every Magicai knew the source of their power, but not every Magicai knew the secret of the doorways. I was one of the Travellers, and like my father before me, I crossed between worlds, exploring different realities. I’d only just arrived back in London, after an otherworldly expedition, when Skylar had entered my world from his and sent a magical summons.
“The storm has passed,” Skylar said. “We must make haste.”
“Now, wait a minute.” I shook my canteen to release the last drop of water into my mouth. “What’s so important that you travel across realities and summon me to Sudan?”
Skylar heaved an exaggerated sigh, but he sat down beside me and handed me his canteen. “The Kushite Stone has been stolen from my world.”
I thought for a minute, relaying the history of the area through my head. “Nope,” I said. “Never heard of it.”
“It is a relic of my world, not yours. Created during the Great War, when Rome pushed forth and tried to conquer the known world.”
That was the big difference between Skylar’s world and my own. Firstly, the Great War referred to a war in a different time and place. Secondly, where Egypt succumbed to the Romans in my world, and the Nubian empire faded and disappeared along with their trade routes, in Skylar’s, the Romans were defeated and the Nubian empire flourished to his present day.
“What makes you think it’s here?” I asked.
Skylar flashed me the signet ring on his finger, a conduit for his magic as much as my runic stone is for mine. “I know it is,” he said. “Arin, a Magicai of great power, has travelled between worlds in the hope of finding the sister to the Kushite Stone. In doing so, he hopes to create a powerful artefact that can help him enslave both our realities.”
I winced. Magical artefacts should never be joined with their counterparts in other worlds. The results would be… well, I wouldn’t want to be around to find out. Suffice to say, big bad magic equals big bad danger.
“That’s not good,” I said.
“No, it is not.” Skylar stood. “So you understand the urgency. Arin has two days head start on us. His lack of knowledge of your world may hinder his process, but he must not succeed.”
With the arid wasteland of desert spread around us, our first course of action was to return to the Nile and see if my boat had survived. Hot, but determined, we salvaged what we could and headed South, the direction Skylar’s magic indicated Arin was headed.
Darkness surrounded us, grim and foreboding. The only glimmer of light came from the stars circling in the moonless sky. The boat rumbled and sliced through the water. Something sploshed in the distance: a great beast entering the river, but no form could be seen. I shivered and pulled my jacket around me.
“It is strange to see the world so peaceful.” Skylar indicated a small settlement to port, only visible as a flicker of firelight in the darkness. “Such places do not exist in my world. The Nile is surrounded by great cities, the water a mass of boats. Even if you have left one city, the lights from the next ignite the sky.”
I nodded my understanding. It could be disconcerting to visit a new world, so similar to your own, yet so different. Inwardly, I sighed, this part of the world was anything but peaceful. “We should see the lights of Khartoum soon.”
Skylar returned to his contemplation of a world alien to his own.
Time passed. The stars dimmed as an artificial glow spread overhead, and the capital city of Sudan appeared before us: a blaze of activity and life. Khartoum was three distinct cities divided by the Nile and connected by bridges. A delicious mix of old and new, with colonial buildings standing shoulder to shoulder with modern sustainable structures.
We docked the boat and slept through the night.
First thing in the morning, we made our way through to the central city of Khartoum itself. Despite the early hour, the streets teemed with people. The enticing aroma of hot food drew us to Green Yard, where we purchased a meal of porridge and kissra bread, and joined the locals sat on the grass.
The park was full of people, eating breakfast, talking with friends. Everywhere we looked, children laughed and played. The constant clamour of activity surrounded our bubble of solitude, unconnected to the people around us.
“Could Arin be in this city?” Skylar asked between mouthfuls.
“It’s possible.” I scanned the crowds and wondered how we would find one person hidden amongst Khartoum’s five million residents. “Are you able to sense the Kushite Stone?”
Skylar glanced around. Most people paid us little attention, so, he clasped his right hand over his left, covering his ring. Despite his precautions, a faint glow lit his hand when he tapped into his magic. He shook his head, released his power and returned to his porridge. “I do not believe Arin is here,” he said. “The Stone is now a great distance to the East.”
I was about to respond, but a tall man in a black full-length tunic glared at as he ducked into the crowd at the edge of the park. There was an air about him that put me on edge. “It’s time to move,” I said.
Weary of my sudden mood change, Skylar glanced around. “Trouble?” he asked.
“Could be.” I caught sight of the man again, talking to two others. I indicated them to Skylar. “Was Arin alone when he left your world?” I asked.
“I am sorry, Nathan, I do not recognise the men. However, it is possible they travelled with Arin. He has a large following of loyal Magicai.”
“They certainly seem to recognise you.” I reached out with my senses. The hum of magic hung in the air. I couldn’t pinpoint who it was from, but in all likelihood, any Magicai would be shielded from discovery. “We need to get away from all these people. We can’t risk exposing ourselves, and who knows how far Arin and his men are willing to go.”
A child kicked a football that landed at my feet. I smiled and kicked it back. “These are innocent people. We have a duty to protect them.”
“Agreed,” Skylar said. “If they are Arin’s men, they will surely follow us if we leave.”
We discarded the remains of our porridge and slipped through the crowds and out of the park. As soon as we reached the edge of the green, we raced to a nearby alleyway and down the street. We dodged through the byways of the city, desperate to escape the crowded areas. The unmistakable thud of footsteps echoed behind us.
Eventually, the narrow street we followed edged into a secluded courtyard. The ground was dusty, but the air was fragrant with herbs and spices, and the only way out was the way we came in, and up over the roof.
We hid in a cleft between two buildings. A cry echoed through the alleyway. I peered around the corner and saw the three men coming after us. Their eyes scanned the area looking for our possible route.
I clutched at the rune stone around my neck. “You ready?” I asked Skylar.
His face was grim, but he nodded. It was three against two, and we had no idea how powerful they were, but we were determined to make a stand.
We stepped into the alleyway and confronted the three men. “You looking for us?” I asked.
Their eyes widened, but they surged forward, calling their magic to them. One hurled a hot spear of energy in my direction. I fell flat, rolling unscathed beneath a blast that impacted the wall behind me with enough force to shatter the brick.
Coming to my feet, I lifted my chin and raised my jaw. “That the best you got?” I called on my power and coated my fists in magical orbs. One of the men came at me, and I pounded him in the stomach. The force of my blow flung him across the alleyway and into a wall. He crumpled to the ground.
The other two men wouldn’t make the same mistake. They edged backwards, unwilling to undertake hand to hand combat.
I beckoned them forward. “What’s the matter boys; you too scared to fight?”
The nearest to me glared and spat on the floor. “Hand over the High Priest of Magicai,” he said, referring to Skylar by title and confirming his connection to both Arin and Skylar’s world. “Or we will see who has reason to be afraid.”
“That’s not about to happen, fellas. So, why don’t you save us some time and tell us where Arin is, so we can send you all back home where you belong.”
His nostrils flared and he shot another bolt of energy in my direction. I met it mid-air with a bolt of my own, blasting it out of existence.
Full of the power of the ley lines, I felt the magic swirl beneath my fingertips. I lifted the dust around us, cloaking us in our own mini sandstorm. The men continued their barrage of energy bolts, but those I didn’t manage to deflect, Skylar handled.
The dust circled around us. The power inside me grew, ready to be unleashed to put an end to this.
“Tell me where Arin is.” My voice echoed in the hollow eye of the storm. All sounds, all smells, and all sites of the city around us were blocked out by the whirlwind of motion. Slowly the feet of our two foes rose from the ground, as they were caught in the vortex.
“Arin is long gone. You will never find him.”
“We’ll see about that.” I focused my power on making the whirlwind faster, the men started to spin around me. Their cries filled my ears.
Skylar laid his hand on my shoulder. “I know you are honourable my friend, but I worry that we cannot leave these men behind to follow us.”
I understood what Skylar was saying, but had no intention of killing anyone unless I had to. I slowed the whirlwind and allowed the men to drop to the floor, then walked over and laid a hand on each of the three men’s heads, focusing my will upon their weakened own.
“There, they’ll sleep for a week. With any luck, the local hospital will take them in.” I shrugged. “Or they’ll lie here undiscovered in the street. Either way, they’ll be fine until I can arrange for someone to collect them.”
“Would it not be useful to interrogate them, find where Arin has gone?”
“No.” I shook my head. “We’ve been looking at this all wrong. We’ve been focused on finding Arin. What we need to do is find his destination. Reach the stone before him and lay a trap.”
“That would be a fine plan, but as you said, the Kushite Stone is not a relic of your world. It will be unknown and impossible to find without its counterpart.”
“Hard, yes. Impossible, no.” I patted Skylar on the shoulder and a wide smile split my face.
“Ahh, I see you have a plan, my friend.”
“Indeed, I do, but first I need to know more about the stone.”
One simple act, a decision made at a certain point in history, caused a timeline split, separating our worlds and sending them forward on different paths. In Skylar’s world the Kushite Stone was imbued with great importance and power. In mine, it might not have the same name or magical properties, but, it would possess the same origins and the same form. Those were clues enough to find it; if you knew the right person to ask.
“Nathan,” Hayley said down the line. “How the hell are you? It’s been months.”
It was good to hear her voice. I met Hayley seven years ago when we were both students at Cambridge. She was an archaeology undergraduate, whilst I undertook my PhD.
“Too long,” I said. “I’ve been in Africa. In fact, I’m in Sudan now, but I need your help locating something.” I hated the half-truth that came out of my mouth, but Hayley wasn’t one of the Magicai, just an exceptional Ordinary with a passion for the past. Despite my wishes to the contrary, with the Magical Order of Secrecy, I was oath bound to keep my true nature from her.
“Anything,” she said, without hesitation. “What do you need?”
I sighed with relief. I knew I could count on Hayley. I gave her a description of the stone. It was small and square, made from carnelian, and was inscribed in Arabic. In Skylar’s world, it was found in twenty-two BCE, but it could have been located much later on ours, so instead of specifying an age, I asked Hayley to look for any object fitting that description found at or near Meroë.
“I’ll do what I can,” she said.
With Hayley’s determination and resources at the British Archaeological Museum, I had no doubt she’d find what we needed.
“Thanks, Hayley. You’re a star. I owe you big time.”
“Yeah, you do. An ice-cream at Chin-Chin sounds great.”
“I’ll do better th—”
“Better than ice-cream?”
I laughed. “How about a night out at Côte,” I said remembering her favourite restaurant.
“Well, yes,” she said, unable to hide the delight in her voice. “That might top ice-cream.”
“You bet it does.” I ended the call feeling better than I had in months. It was great to travel and see different worlds, but there were some things from home that couldn’t be matched.
Ten hours later, we set foot on English soil and headed straight to Bloomsbury in Camden. As fate would have it, Hayley had located a carnelian stone fitting our description in The British Museum, not three miles from my home. Although it was dated to the eighteenth century and found in Zanzibar, the website link she shared pictured an orange, glassy stone, one-point-one centimetres square, which Skylar confirmed as the artefact we sought.
From Hayley’s research, we knew the stone wasn’t on display, so that meant it had to be in storage. I searched the website on my phone for more information and found an interactive map of a newly built centre. The map detailed a variety of locations, from an exhibition gallery to conservation facilities, but our target was likely in the collection storage rooms. Three subterranean-floors beneath the collections’ management hub.
A cab dropped us outside Malet Street Gardens, and we used the cover of the trees to survey the building. The modern centre stood next to the Greek revival quadrangle dating back to the eighteen hundreds. With no visible entrance, we would have to go through the old building.
“What about security?” Skylar asked.
“No clue, but we can be sure it’s top of the range.” I checked the time: six twenty-three. The museum closed at six, but that didn’t mean staff wouldn’t still be working. “We’ll have to use magic to get past any obstacles,” I said.
I used the ley lines to draw magic into myself, relishing the feeling as it flowed through my veins. “Ready?” I asked, and created a shield to block our image from any CCTV recording.
“Ready,” Skylar agreed.
We left the park and made our way to the north wing of the building. I held my rune stone and called forth a simple spell to unlock the cast iron gates and an employee entrance. We strolled through the hall, as though we belonged, until we reached the Great Court. Skylar froze. His eyes moved from the cylindrical room in the centre of the court and travelled to the spectacular glass canopy, crisscrossed with steel to form thousands of triangular windows looking out onto a bright summer sky.
His breath caught. I laughed and gave him a nudge. “Careful, you’re starting to look like a tourist.”
I scanned the room. A recumbent marble statue of a lion, over six-feet tall and almost ten wide, stood vigil in the corner. I took his sage look of benevolence as approval for our minor transgression.
“This way,” I said, noting an exit in the corner. “Hopefully, this will lead to the new structure.”
Through it, we accessed the new building and a staircase leading down. We moved from public spaces to equally deserted staff areas. Gaining access to the storage floors proved simple with our magical abilities. A white sterile environment, with aisle upon aisle of yellow storage units replaced the high ceiling and the chemical smell of antiseptic and subcritical fluids permeated the air.
We stood for a moment, thinking. There were three floors worth of items in storage, and time was critical, at any moment, we could trigger an alarm or stumble into a member of staff.
“We need to access a computer,” I said, “Find the storage location of the stone.”
“Agreed. There are far too many places to search in a limited time.”
Skylar remembered the online map displaying a work area in the middle of the top floor of the three floors we need to explore. It was the best place to look for a computer, so we edged through the corridors of storage and made our way to it. Sure enough, a number of computer terminals lined one wall.
I rummaged through desk drawers and located a random word on a post-it note stuck inside a notepad. I shook my head in bewilderment. It couldn’t be that simple, could it? I typed the password in to see if it matched the username displayed when I booted up the computer. I held my breath, as, the Blue Circle of Death span on the screen and the PC thought. Sure enough, seconds later, I had full access to the museum’s records.
I shook my head in disbelief. “Thank you, Mr Landman,” I said to the absent museum worker whose login details I’d used. The greatest security protocols in the world were useless if users didn’t implement basic common sense when choosing or hiding passwords.
“Two floors down,” I said, reading the details from the screen. “Corridor C, unit 28.” I scribbled the complex item reference number on a scrap of paper.
I powered the PC down and we headed towards the artefact. We were halfway down the stairs when we heard a door shut above us. We froze. The unmistakable buzz of magic danced through the air. A sudden chill in my bones warned me of the danger approaching.
“Arin?” Skylar queried.
“Move.” We raced down the floors without sound or hesitation. The silence of the stairwell was broken by the soft tread of footfalls above us. We had to find the stone.
I hissed, as once again, the lights in the room responded to our presence and lit the floor like a flare in an otherwise dark night. “Corridor C.” I pushed Skylar into the recess and we frantically scanned the cabinet labels. “Twenty-one… twenty-five…”
“Twenty-eight,” Skylar said. He tore open the drawer and withdrew a box. He opened it and sighed with relief.
I took the box from him, and held the stone aloft, marvelling at the light reflecting through its translucent core. A faint trace of magic seeped into my fingers, too little to warrant the attention of the Magicai.
“Here,” I said, tossing it to Skylar. “You hide. I’ll draw Arin and whoever’s with him away. Then you get the hell out of here.”
Skylar nodded and patted me on the shoulder. “Stay safe,” he said.
I returned the gesture. “You too, my friend.”
I moved out of the corridor, into the main hallway, and away from the staircase. It seemed like an age passed before the stairwell door opened and three men stepped through.
I stood on full display and eyed the men. Desperation chewed at my insides, but I couldn’t let it show. The two outside men glanced at the man stood between them as though waiting for instructions.
“So, you’re Arin,” I said, raising my chin at the middle man.
“And you, of course, are Nathan Scott,” he said. “I have studied your exploits as a Traveller. It seems our reputations precede us both.”
“Not really.” I took a few steps to the side in an attempt to keep their focus on me. “I don’t know the first thing about you, mate. Just that you’re an arse who wants this here stone.” I lifted the empty box and waved it at Arin.
“You will soon know that I am a very dangerous man to cross.” He smiled “Why don’t you save yourself a lot of trouble and hand it over?”
“Why don’t you come and get it?” Magic soared through my body, and I released a surge power at the lights overhead. We plunged into darkness, and I slipped further away from the stairwell.
“I’m sure you think yourself very clever, Mr Scott, but I’m afraid your tricks won’t work with me.”
Damn it! I hoped Skylar had enough sense to stay hidden where he was until Arin could be goaded into action. “What’s the matter?” I said. “Afraid to try and take the stone from me?”
I peered around the corner, but darkness enveloped our underground surroundings.
“I have no need to take the stone.” An inferno of light accompanied his words and the air reverberated with immense power. The magical plane shook. It felt like existence was being torn apart. I was shaking. My heart thundered, ready to explode.
The light vanished.
“The Kushite Stone,” Arin said. “It calls to its sister. I’m sure you agree, the results would be devastating should they meet.”
“Another reason not to give you the stone.”
Arin laughed again. The sound made me want to punch him in the face.
“You have no fight with me. Give me the stone and I will spare your world. Fight and you will die, and I will see to it your precious London is destroyed in the process. All I have to do is open the lead box shielding the Kushite Stone from its sister, within minutes your city will perish.”
I heard the truth of the words in his voice. Arin was a mad man. Who knew what he would do with the power of the two stone: raze cities, destroy worlds, anything was possible.
A thud sounded in the dark, followed by the rumble of a scuffle. My heart sank, at Skylar’s frantic voice, as he fought his attackers.
I reignited the fluorescent lights with a blast of energy. Without hesitation, a second blast of power shot from my hand and towards Arin, alone by the door.
He deflected the shot, and rushed into an aisle away from sight, but not before he retaliated. I grunted as his blast seared my arm: a burning flesh wound, more painful than damaging.
I fell against the wall and took a few breaths to steady myself. There was no time to waste. Arin couldn’t get the stone. I raced down the corridor after him. The whole room crackled with magical energy like the sky before a lightning strike.
I rounded a final corner and came to a halt. Skylar was pinned against the wall by a magical field. The stone clutched in his hand.
“You’re too late,” Arin said. “The stone is mine.”
Sweat beaded Skylar’s brow as he fought to keep his fist closed around the stone, but an unseen force pried at his fingers, tearing them apart.
I raised my hands and called my power. Arin’s two goons approached me, their own magic blazing in their hands. There was no way in hell I would let them win.
I advanced, adrenaline coursed through my veins and my heart thundered. I hurled volley after volley of power at my attackers. They tried to escape, but my onslaught was too fast, too furious. I hurled them against the walls, pinning them, as Arin had pinned Skylar.
Arin had a split second to react before I unleashed the full force of my magic against him. The blast struck home. He fought against me, but I couldn’t let him go. If I released my focus either he or his goons would escape and it would be game over.
I drew more power into me, feeding off the ley lines the way a plant absorbs light. My head pounded, and my legs faltered, but I kept my magic trained on Arin.
I couldn’t hold out much longer.
The magic engulfed me, threatened to tear me apart.
I gritted my teeth and pushed forward with everything I had.
I struck home.
Arin’s screams were silenced by the thunder of magic and the quickness of his demise. He disappeared in a cloud of dust, disintegrated in an instant.
Skylar fell to the floor as Arin’s magic disappeared along with his body. “Thank you,” he spluttered.
“Anytime,” I clapped him on the shoulder. “Your megalomaniac is my megalomaniac.”
I meant it too, as a Magicai and a Traveller, I had a duty to protect all worlds from those who would abuse the power of the ley lines, home-grown or otherwise. Although, for now, that duty could wait until after I met a dear friend for dinner.
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